Saturday, November 26, 2011

How Many Wandering Monsters?

Okay, this is not about frequency of random encounters in a dungeon.  I delved into that here.  This is more about variety.  What I'm curious about now is: How many types of distinct creatures are on your wandering monster table?  And, also, how likely is it to encounter each?

I'm asking because I'm trying to streamline my DMing.  I was thinking of even pre-rolling encounters and having them appear one by one as encounters  occur (I'm pretty sure I saw this in action on Jim's Carjacked Seraphim blog).

I actually like better not knowing as a DM what will show up.  But I tend to forget how many stirge attacked the party, and in worst case scenarios I'll lose track of which creature had been hit/how many hp they have left during the combat because I'm just scrawling on scratch paper.  I've tried the using-8-siders to keep track but this assumes you have a nice clean space at a table to keep them separated from your regular dice.  I'm usually standing or even perched over a sliver of end table.

Anyway, if I have only 4 to 6 types of monsters to randomly encounter, maybe I can pre-roll several different batches of stirge and have them ready to roll.  So I'm wondering if your tables are sparse like that or tend to be d20 or d100 affairs.  Any other details on tracking hp/xp would be of great interest too.  Okay, I'm off to forage on the tundra (Skyrim).


  1. Depends on the type of dungeon. If it's a one-shot or short term exploration, I use a D6. If it's a megadungeon-type or something the party are going to be exploring again and again, I use a d100 table weighted by frequency with 15-20+ monsters per level.

  2. If you're running a sandbox setting, then wandering monsters have to set the tone for each individual area - whether in a wilderness or in a mega-dungeon. If the list has too many options then none will appear often enough to give the space a certain character - considering on a good night you might get 3 positive check results.

    So it depends on the size of the area and the frequency of travel. For the hex between the dungeon and the city (heavy travel high chance of wandering encounter) I use a 2d6 table with about 8 results. The heavily weighted values (5-9) are things like 'animals' and 'humanoids' while the extreme values are things like 'dragon' 'hill giant' and 'roll 2x fight' and 'adventurers'. Each large category like 'animals' has between 4-6 types of monsters to characterize the area.

    In a dungeon level, I tend to have 4-8 randomized encounters, several options of which are 'monster from nearby room' and 'special level wandering encounters'. The others are made up from the factions and forces on the level. Some encounters are removed after being used.

    I think determining them randomly at game time is less efficient, but a lot more fun for the DM. My players don't mind a few minutes of prep work (and I do a lot beforehand to make it quick)

  3. My old plan (which I'd still use today) was to generate the encounters ahead of time, write each encounter on an index card. I then bundled the cards by level/hex/whatever and when the players were in that area, I'd randomly draw a card and put it in a used pile when the encounter was over. If I didn't mark them up much, I reused them, or wrote notes for later meetings (such as with caravans or pilgrims if I thought they'd meet them again). Next time they came back, I'd generate appropriate replacements as part of the restocking plan.

  4. i think if you encounter a creature more than once it should be either because:

    a-there's a stimulus/response. Like: you did this, so there will be these creatures, learn to not do that


    b-they can be anticipated and avoided--possibly based on the last time you encountered them


    c-there's some surprise this time

    In other words, there should be a reason you want it to happen. It should get more interesting that it's the same monster rather than less on some level.

  5. This is an excellent comparison of differing play-styles.

    My players spend a lot of time in the same area, and encounters are rather frequent and often have little of obvious interest - but there is always tactical infinity.

    @Zak, They meet goats multiple times because goats live in the pass on the way to the abandoned dwarven fortress. The table (along with weather and such) simulates activity. Sometimes they take potshots at the goats and waste a ton of time fighting goats. Then they are like "more goats, what the fuck?" As long as they are having fun (and due to awesome criticals I can always threaten their lives, even with goats, what do I care?

    I explicitly run a game where I never want anything to happen.

    (don't mistake me that I don't make an effort during the game to make things exciting when they do happen. . .)

    I suppose I could be doing it wrong, but the games are always extremely player driven. There is boring stuff and there is exciting stuff. It's their choice what to spend time on.

  6. Errr. . .
    As long as they are having fun what do I care? (and due to awesome criticals I can always threaten their lives, even with goats)

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    @John: Thanks, I think the -C hits on some of the questions your answer raises for me.

    @-C: Thanks very much, yes, the flavor of the place, but frequency of travel is a factor. I suppose one issue is how do I know where my players are going to be traveling a lot? Maybe charts need revising after a visit or two? But then you are changing the flavor of the location.

    I'm reminded of Apple having to change their shuffle algorithm because people didn't find it "random" enough. In other words, multiple hits of the same monster in a row is in fact a possibility for a random chart. So it seems like we are fighting our charts here, no? Or trying to achieve several goals at once.

    @Derek: It's cool to hear someone was thinking along the same lines as me. I might try this with business card size pre-made encounters.

    @Zak: I find all those points laudable, but I'm thinking of the stairs carved into the cliifside of my Maw. Stirge are common there. I suppose ingenious players could avoid them or try to be sneaky or something, but I just consider them the the creatures that live in that area. Is that bad design?

    I can understand players saying "Ugh, I'm getting sick of fighting all these stirge" but aren't your three points pushing toward no random encounters at all, but carefully designed ones? I mean I would have to prepare monsters for 1 based on certain triggers (sound, light) and have them waiting in the wings and then only have them show up if the triggers happen, not if I roll a one on the random encounters. 2 would mean thinking of alternate routes around them, right? But how can I design for that if I've rolled the encounter randomly? Three is something I could easily strive for,though, maybe a subtable for similar encounters giving different things they are doing (fighting, feeding, breeding, wounded).

  8. oops, you commented while I was typing, -C. hah, taking potshots at goats sounds amusing.

  9. I have been thinking about this recently. Take a movie like Perfect Dark. One monster. Alien? Pretty much any horror movie? Just one type. Take JRPGs: probably 2-3 different monster types per zone, but they typically don't cross over between zones.

    Why have more? Gygaxian naturalism suggests multiple monster types in one place. That's how the encounter tables look. But he said to mix it up how you like.

    Here's my thing: players need to not get bored. The monsters present need to be very interesting and different from each other. Intelligence and organization, special abilities, equipment, use of dungeon features, movement styles, all these can make a monster encounter interesting.

    I typically have 6, 8, or 10 different encounter types. My encounter entry looks like this:

    1 1d6+6 Giant Rats
    2 2d3 Ghouls
    3 Green Slime
    4 1d6+1 Piercers
    5 1d4+1 Skunkbats
    6 Draugr

    Each "area" in this case is probably a 300' across square of dungeon. There will also be a couple special monsters that don't appear on the random encounter list, like maybe a Mimic or a little silver demon-book that horks around and tries to bite you.

    But my wandering monster checks are 1 in 6, every 2 turns. We don't see a lot of them come up because people are pretty good at getting a move on.

    The important thing for me is that wandering monsters drain resources, give little or no treasure, and so are an effective penalty for wasting time. That doesn't mean I don't like Zak's gem-studded gauntlet monkeys - that's just plain cool. But if I were playing, I would be trying to figure out a way to get that treasure. You don't want players sitting around hacking at random encounters - that's an activity they should try to avoid. Maybe imposing boredom in the form of a predictable fight is a downside, but it's not fun at all. A wandering monster fight can be fun, it just shouldn't be as rewarding as exploring the dungeon.

  10. D6, but with replacement. D12 for really extensive megadungeon levels.

    Also, this idea: you have a d6 table but a reserve encounter that is cooler or more epic than anything on the table. You apply that the first time they roll a repeat.

  11. I'm working on each dungeon area within a level having it's own small wandering monster table (d6 or so). The likely repetitions help give a distinct flavor to each area. I roll on a second "what are the monstering doing?" table to make these more interesting. I don't see why you couldn't pre-roll these encounters, and it would save time at the table.

  12. Usually 8 or 10 entries, roll d6, add 2 or 4 during the night do provide different favors. My hexes all contain a lair on average, and every hex has random encounters based on the surrounding hexes. For dungeons I usually use 1PDC entries and they come with d6 tables most of the time.
    I don't like to pre roll even though I thought about it often because I like to be surprised and forced to improvise at the table.

  13. Last time I DMed I had about 6 or 8 wandering monsters per dungeon/level, to fit the 'theme' of the area.
    My players were pretty 'efficient' and I didn't roll enough to get a lot of repeats but sometimes I'd fudge if there was repetition, and I always tried to have at least one result be some or all of a keyed encounter elsewhere.

    My original plan for Belly of the Beast had a progressive wandering monster table -- the more you 'hurt' the dungeon, the tougher the 'antibodies' it sends, but I don't remember if that made into the OPD version.

    My 'pit' dungeon had an expanding wandering monster table. The deeper you go, the longer the list got, because you roll d4 on the first 3 levels, d6 for the next two, d8 for the next two, etc., so that deep down you might still find weaker monsters from the beginning of the list but also face tougher ones from deeper levels.
    I like a lot of ideas posted above though. Especially the cause/effect one. I actually did something like that only once -- waste time looking for secret doors in one section of level one of Telengard, and you get a ghost face from Vermin & Varlets.

  14. You folks are like an advanced DMing seminar. Thanks!

    It's looking like some of you (Paul, Roger) are doing what I was starting to think might be the answer, splitting the difference-- with a small number of monsters to give an area flavor, then a chart to spice those repeats up once you've had too many.

    This will also let me split the difference for preparing and improve-- preparing a couple of each encounter and then winging it with the epic/weird result.

    Also, triggered monsters and entries on the chart that are roaming room denizens.

    I think I'll make an abstracted "what the monsters are doing chart" next. Have you posted yours Paul?

    @1d30: hah! any chart with Skunkbats & Draugr on it gets my thumbs up :)

  15. No, I haven't posted anything yet. I've made a few specific lists in the past, but only recently thought to generalize it.

    Check out Jeff Rient's "What are the goblins up to?" It's in his Miscellaneum of Cinder.

  16. Yep, His is the first I'd seen. I was thinking, like you, to abstract it out to be usable for all critters.

  17. @-c


    I just mean: i tend to game it out when i have monsters like that. Is this going to get old? Is there a naturalistic way to prevent that? etc.